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Coronavirus updates: Childhood cases almost doubled in 4 weeks; Trump team skeptical of Russian vaccine; Big Ten could punt football

Trump administration officials on Tuesday were dismissive of news that Russia has become the first country to officially register a vaccine to combat COVID-19.

“The point is not to be first with a vaccine. The point is to have a vaccine that is safe and effective for the American people and the people of the world," U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told ABC's "Good Morning America."

Azar said it’s important to have transparent data to prove safety and efficacy. He noted that the U.S. has six vaccines in development under the Operation Warp Speed initiative. The World Health Organization has said all vaccine candidates should go through full stages of testing before being rolled out. In the U.S., the federal government has spent more the $9 billion to develop and manufacture candidate vaccines.

The scramble for a vaccine is intensifying as kids begin making their way into the nation's classrooms. Children represent less than 10% of all confirmed U.S. COVID-19 cases, but the total number of youth cases has almost doubled in the last month, a new report says.

Here are some significant developments:

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 163,000 deaths and 5 million cases of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, there have been more than 737,000 deaths and 20 million cases. 

📰 What we're reading: Parents are torn as some schools in the same district face greater reopening risks than others. The virus generally has affected poorer school communities more severely than wealthier areas.

Survey: Youth COVID-19 cases almost doubled in four weeks

Children represent less than 10% of all confirmed U.S. COVID-19 cases, but the total number of youth cases has almost doubled in the last month, a new report says.

Almost 180,000 new child cases were reported from between July 9 and Aug. 6, raising the total number to 380,174, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported in a new survey. The increase comes as schools across the nation begin to open their doors to students. The good news: The data indicates that COVID-19-associated hospitalization and death is uncommon in children. 

"At this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is rare among children," the survey says. "However, states should continue to provide detailed reports on COVID-19 cases, testing, hospitalizations, and mortality by age so that the effects of COVID-19 on children’s health can continue to be documented and monitored."

Azar doubles down on China blame-game

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday pressed the Trump administration case that China failed to adequately warn of the coronavirus after it was first detected in Wuhan. China’s ruling Communist Party chose not to "warn the world and work with the world on battling the virus" Azar said, adding that the costs of that choice are rising every day. The Trump administration has repeatedly accused China of withholding information from the U.N. World Health Organization – and cited the claim in announcing U.S. withdrawal from WHO.

Azar is in Taiwan, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the breakaway island since formal relations between Taiwan and mainland China were severed in 1979.

Putin says his daughter got COVID-19 vaccine as Russia registers serum

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway expressed skepticism about the testing backing up Russia’s claim that it has developed a COVID-19 vaccine. President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said his daughter is among those to receive the vaccine. 

“The U.S. standards are so much more stringent,” Conway said Tuesday on “Fox & Friends.” “Our FDA in our country sets the standards and what I understand from the Russia announcement is this is nowhere near where we are.”

Putin emphasized that the vaccine underwent the necessary tests and has proven efficient, offering a lasting immunity from the coronavirus. However, scientists at home and abroad have been sounding the alarm that the rush to start using the vaccine before Phase 3 trials – which normally last for months and involve thousands of people – could backfire.

Congressman says canceling college football would be 'enormous mistake'

Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a former Ohio State and NFL wide receiver, says the Big Ten Conference’s pending decision to not to play football games this fall would be an “enormous mistake for all the kids.” Gonzalez, R-Ohio, said that no athletes should be forced to play, and any athlete who opts out should have been given an additional season of eligibility. 

The Big Ten athletic directors are very close to halting football in the fall, three people with knowledge of the decision confirmed to the Detroit Free Press. The people requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the decision. A decision could come today.

“The risk is obviously there," Gonzalez told USA TODAY. "But I think that if you're in an environment where coaches want to coach, players want to play and parents of players want their kids to play that, at the very least, you need to create the option.”

Steve Berkowitz and Paul Myerberg

Highest risk from in-class learning faced by communities needing it most

A USA TODAY analysis of COVID-19 infection rates at the ZIP code level found that neighborhoods hit hardest by the coronavirus and others barely touched often exist side by side – and in the same district where officials are trying to determine if schools should open. The numbers also show that, overwhelmingly, the areas facing the greatest risk are also the most to lose by delaying in-person instruction. These mostly non-white ZIP codes are disproportionately poor, so students may lack the devices or internet access they need to succeed with distance education.

"When you have the pressure of trying to meet everyone’s needs and then you fail, there's no amount of liability insurance out there that can help you when someone dies,” said Kristi Wilson, American Association of School Administrators president.

 Suzanne Hirt, Mark Nichols and Sommer Brugal

Alyssa Milano still battling symptoms months after becoming ill

Alyssa Milano says she's still suffering from chest pains, hair loss and other symptoms after becoming "acutely sick" with COVID-19 in April. In a video shared to social media, Milano, 47, ran a detangler brush over her head multiple times, holding up the sizable clumps of hair that came out. 

"I just wanted to show you the amount of hair that's coming out of my head as a result of COVID," the actress and activist said, imploring her followers to "please take this seriously" and "wear a damn mask." 

Hannah Yasharoff and Cydney Henderson

Illinois cracks down on violence against retailers who require masks

Illinois has passed a law providing stiffer penalties for assaulting a retail worker "conveying public health guidance," such as requiring patrons to wear face-coverings or promoting social distancing. The law makes the attacks aggravated battery and it sends the message that it’s vitally important for workers to be respected and protected while serving on the front lines, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. Aggravated battery can result in a sentence of up to five years in prison. The law also increases disability pay for emergency workers affected by COVID-19.

“This legislation allows front line workers that have been impacted by COVID-19 to focus on recovering while sending a clear message to all our essential workers that we are behind them and will do all we can to protect their safety and well-being," said State Representative Jay Hoffman.

VA cuts ties with janitorial service operated by convicted sex offender

The Department of Veterans Affairs has broken off business ties with a janitorial service operated by a convicted sex offender. America’s Best at Work provided cleaning and janitorial services to help fight COVID-19 at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital outside Chicago. VA spokeswoman Christina Noel said the company met the criteria to become a vendor under federal law, which includes being deemed “responsible” through its registration with the System for Award Management. 

But days after USA TODAY began questioning the agency about Ezekiel Lopez – a registered child sexual predator in Illinois sent to prison for more than three years in 2007 for sexually abusing two teenage girls under his care – the VA hospital changed course, ending its relationship with the business.

Josh Salman

Arizona reports 600 new cases as hospitalizations steadily decline 

Arizona reported just 600 new COVID-19 cases and four new known deaths on Monday, as hospitalizations for the disease continue four weeks of steady declines. Inpatient hospitalizations, ICU beds in use and ventilators in use all dropped on Sunday, continuing general downward trends over the past month, according to hospital data reported to the state. 

Identified cases rose to 187,523 and known deaths totaled 4,154, according to the daily report by the Arizona Department of Health Services. Monday's dashboard shows 80% of inpatient beds and 81% of ICU beds were in use, which includes people being treated for COVID-19 and other patients. Overall, 36% of ventilators were in use.

By the numbers: record deaths in 5 states

– Alison Steinbach, Arizona Republic; Mike Stucka, USA TODAY

Campus workers sue NC university system for unsafe conditions

At least 16 workers on campuses in the University of North Carolina school system are suing the schools for working conditions that put them "at an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19." Workers at UNC said that they "should not be required to be exposed to an increased risk of getting sick" due to students' return to campus, said the lawsuit filed Monday by members of the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, UE Local 150 and members of the North Carolina American Association of University Professors.

Bringing students back to campus places workers at higher risk of exposure to the virus, and despite masks, social distancing and hand-washing requirements implemented by the school, it is impossible to "control whether thousands of students located within their campus communities comply" with these requirements, said the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed at the Wake County Superior Court.

Health officials are quitting or getting fired amid outbreak

A review by the Kaiser Health News service and The Associated Press finds at least 49 state and local public health leaders have resigned, retired or been fired since April across 23 states. One of the latest departures came Sunday, when California’s public health director, Dr. Sonia Angell, was ousted following a technical glitch that caused a delay in reporting hundreds of thousands of virus test results — information used to make decisions about reopening businesses and schools.

Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said they reflect burnout as well as attacks on public health experts and institutions from the highest levels of government, including from President Donald Trump, who has sidelined the CDC during the pandemic.

“The overall tone toward public health in the U.S. is so hostile that it has kind of emboldened people to make these attacks,” Frieden said.

Mississippi lawmakers return to work after outbreak

Mississippi legislators have returned to the state Capitol for the first time since a coronavirus outbreak in early July hospitalized several legislators and killed one person. Mississippi’s state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said 49 legislators had tested positive in the outbreak — more than one-fourth of the entire body.

Lawmakers left the building July 1 after working there throughout the month of June, many without wearing masks or following social distancing regulations. The health officer said at least four legislators were hospitalized and three required intensive care. Dobbs said that at least 12 others, including lobbyists and staff, were infected, including one non-legislator who died.

More COVID-19 resources from USA TODAY

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Contributing: The Associated Press

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